Friday, June 13, 2008

The Man Who Forgot His Feet

John was selected to be a judge for the town's annual Liars Contest.

"This is an important occasion," John thought. "I must dress appropriately to be a judge."

He checked his closet. His funeral suit was in good condition. He was saving it for his own funeral, but for this one day, he thought, he could wear it. "This is even more important than my funeral," John told his wife.

Shoes were a problem. He pulled out the one pair of dress shoes he'd ever owned, bought for him by his mother for his high school graduation. The shoes were covered in dust but still looked new. He'd only worn them one time, after all. He had been saving them to go with the funeral suit.

He slipped his foot into one shoe and discovered that he had a problem: his foot had grown at least an inch since graduation.

"Of course it has!" said his wife. "You were twenty years younger when you graduated! We'll have to give those shoes away."

"Oh no," replied John. "I can still wear them for my funeral. It won't matter to me then if the shoes are too tight!"

He continued, "But I need a pair for the contest. A judge can't show up in work boots! I need a new pair." He sighed. Shopping was not high on his list of ways to spend his time. Then he had an idea--his wife could go! She loved to shop.

John found a ruler and carefully measured his foot, both the width and the length. He wrote the measurements on a piece of paper and handed it to his wife.

"Here. Run down to the shoe store and get me a pair of good black shoes," he ordered.

"I can't go. Don't you remember that I start my new job this afternoon? You'll have to go yourself." She handed the paper back to John.

There was nothing for it but he would have to go. John slicked back his hair and headed out.

As he walked to the shoe store, he met many neighbors who wanted to talk to him about his important role as judge of the liars' contest. "You're a natural for the post," one man said. "Why anyone who tell lies like you do would know in a minute if a lie was a good 'un or not."

John swelled with pride. "Indeed," he said, "I am an accomplished liar. My wife never believes a word I say, even when it's the truth I'm speaking. She says I must be conserving truth because it's such a rarity in our house, and that I've told so many little white lies I've gotten color-blind. I tell her that although I am an exceptionally good liar, I always tell the truth."

Making his way down the street, John grandly bowed his head to all who called out congratulations. When he got to the shoe store, he stepped up to the counter and said, "I have come, dear man, to purchase a pair of shoes for a most auspicious occasion." (John liked to use big words when he was feeling important.)

"Very good," said the shopkeeper. "What size do you need?"

John reached in his pocket for the paper with his foot measurements. The paper was not there. Frantically he searched all his pockets. No paper.

"Blast!" he cried. " I must return home to get the paper. I don't remember what the measurements were. I shall return as quickly as possible."

As John hurried up the street, he bumped into a friend. Of course the friend wanted to talk about John's upcoming position as judge of the contest, and John obliged by sharing all the details of his appointment. "The mayor himself chose me," said John. "He said it takes one to know one. I always say that reality is tough enough without adding truth to it."

John finally reached his home and found the paper with the measurements. He ran back to the shoe store--but it was closed!

There was nothing he could do about it except return home without a new pair of shoes. He walked slowly up the street with his head down.

"Hey John!' called a neighbor. "Why so sad? A man with such a special job to do should be feeling fine!"

"Oh my," said John. "I needed a new pair of shoes to be the judge--a judge must be dressed properly, you know. But I left my measurements at home on my first trip to the store and had to go back and get them. And when I returned, the store was closed! Now I have no new shoes. I'll have to wear my old boots, I suppose. This is just terrible."

The neighbor was puzzled. "Who did you say you were buying the shoes for?" he asked.

"Myself, of course! Who else would I buy shoes for when I am the one who needs them?"

"But you had your feet with you the entire time! Why didn't you just try the shoes on and find a pair to fit?"

John looked at his neighbor a long time, and then down at his feet. Without another word he stepped into his house and closed the door.

The important judge of the liars' contest wore work boots with his funeral suit to the contest. Every now and then he would look down at his feet, as if to be sure they were still with him. He didn't want to forget he had them again!

This is my retelling of a Chinese fable. Some days we overlook the most basic things. But although I occasionally lose my head, I have yet to misplace my feet!

For other sources of this story, go to:

The Storyteller Online
Chinese Culture

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